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American Muslim

The Independent Star -  December 21, 2003

The Patriot Act undermines the Bill of Rights

By Milan Patel, 14 and Matt Stone, 17

True love and Carolyn Baugh brought Tarek al Basti to the United States, but they didn't live happily ever after. While in Egypt as an exchange student, Baugh met Basti. They fell in love and were married. After the couple moved to Evansville, Basti worked hard at a restaurant and eventually saved enough money to buy it. He became an American citizen. Needing workers, Basti sponsored family and friends from Egypt to work in the restaurant. However, one of those friends, in the middle of a divorce, brought much grief to Basti and his family.

After the friend arrived in Evansville, his ex-wife called the FBI and accused him of plotting a terrorist attack on Chicago. In October 2001, Basti and seven friends were arrested. They were not told why they were being held, they weren't allowed counsel, and relatives were not told where they were.

The Evansville Eight, as they were called, were taken to a jail in Chicago, where they were handcuffed and shackled. They were paraded in front of TV cameras. A week later, the FBI released the men. The agency also later apologized, but lasting damage had been done. Not only did business slow at the restaurant, but the men have encountered problems at airports when traveling to visit relatives in Egypt.

John Krull, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, related this story to explain the effects of the USA Patriot Act. The federal law, rapidly passed in October 2001, is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. It is supposed to defend against terrorism and other criminals in the United States.

Krull and others say the Patriot Act undermines the Bill of Rights. "The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights, and they are primarily restraints upon government's ability to influence or coerce individuals. Five of those 10 amendments have been significantly altered, primarily by the Patriot Act," Krull said.

According to Krull, the Patriot Act has most affected the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

Under the Fourth Amendment, searches are permitted only with a warrant, which lists the things or people that officials intend to find and seize. A warrant is issued only after law enforcement officials present evidence that they have "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed.

Under the Patriot Act, it is possible to be detained without a warrant. "The standard that's set forth in the Fourth Amendment is that you've got to have probable cause before you invade someone's personal space," Krull said.

In addition, he said, the act lets agencies wiretap phones and look at people's e-mails to see whether they are involved in terrorism.

"It also just kind of reverses what should be the operating equation for a self-governing society, namely that government is accountable to its citizens, rather than the current equation, which the Patriot Act put in place, and that is that citizens are accountable to their government," Krull said.